Raising Richmond: Dinosaurs and drive time

When I heard that the National Museum of Natural History is closing the fossil hall for renovations for five years starting April 27th, I knew we had to take our daughter for a visit.

Going to Washington, DC used to be easy. If it was a field trip, a museum visit with my parents, or shopping in Georgetown, it was always a day trip. Going to the 9:30 Club to see a show took so little effort that it was nothing to go more than once a week.

Easy isn’t the case anymore due to various life events from the last several years. However, when I heard that the National Museum of Natural History is closing the fossil hall for renovations for five years starting April 27th, I knew we had to visit. I’ve been projecting an interest in dinosaurs onto my three-year-old for a long time, and it’s beginning to take.

I worked my magic of complicating things by making what used to be a simple event into a weekend-long parade of visiting people. By the time I finished planning the dumb trip, figuring out who we could see and stay with, along with the timing of everything, it was five years later and the museum renovations were completed. Or rather, I was already exhausted with the idea and told myself that our daughter would barely remember the visit so it wasn’t really worth it. There are awesome dinosaurs in Pittsburgh, and we would surely visit our friend there in the next five years.

I still felt like we were missing out, and when it came time for a grandparent visit in Northern Virginia, it just made sense to tack on a trip to the museum while we were up there.

This past Sunday morning, we left my husband’s parents’ house and were in DC just after 9:00 AM. Normally we’ll take the Metro in, but thought it would save time to drive in. The museum opens at 10:00, and the National Mall was already packed, though that didn’t keep us from finding a free parking space just a block away from the museum. Already we were winning the day!

We walked around the Mall for a bit, let our daughter chase pigeons, and answered every time she asked “Is it ten o’clock yet?” (she basically asked every minute, so she’s getting the hang of time, I think).

There was a huge line waiting for the museum to open. We were expecting the place to be miserably packed and bracing ourselves for something unenjoyable, but once we got in it was OK. I’m not sure what the renovations will be, but here are my suggestions:

  • Make a special area for people who only want to take photos of every single thing and not actually look at anything on display. When you’re waiting for a crowd of ten people to finish taking iPad photos of something that has been around for millions of years1 so that you can pass by, it really makes you wonder why we take photos to begin with.
  • Put cool sunglasses on all the dinosaurs and give the T. Rex finger guns.

We walked around the museum for almost two hours. I think our daughter was scared of the dinosaur bones, but she liked the Insect Zoo, the stuffed mammal collection, and anything she could touch on the information displays. I was wiped out after walking around for a couple of hours, and realized that while the museum has way more than just dinosaurs and we had a really nice trip, I’d be cool to not visit it for another five years. Then we made our way to Ben’s Chili Bowl (my husband’s favorite place on earth, maybe), and headed home. And didn’t get there for another four hours.

That’s probably why my brain was telling me it wasn’t a good idea to go, while my giant ground-sloth-loving heart was saying otherwise. I don’t remember traffic on the way home being a factor during all those jaunts to DC when I was younger. Granted, I was mostly coming home at 1:00 AM after a concert, but I bet even now that trip gets stalled from Manassas to Fredericksburg.2 While the morning and everything else went according to plan, it was the drive home that was the hard part. My daughter is a road trip champ, and she kept herself entertained and then took a long nap. She also spent some time trying to spell her dad’s name by herself (she ended up with “Dad’s name is L-M-N-O-Papa”).

While that was a rough end to an otherwise good day, it made me realize how the actual DC part of going to DC went a little better than the first two times we took her to visit things. Before she wasn’t interested in anything but a random fish tank at the National Zoo, and then wasn’t interested in anything that wasn’t the steps and wheelchair ramps at the National Air and Space Museum. It’s nice to think of all the new-to-her places we can take her to in our nation’s capital, having her recognize the monuments on her own, or even having her interested in seeing a panda like a normal person.3

We’ll just take the plane home to save some time when we go again.

Photo by: Janitors

  1. That’s not an exaggeration this time! 
  2. There never seems to be any reason for the traffic. My theory is that people who live there cause backups because they all slow down their cars and think “Do I really want to live here?” 
  3. When we took her to the National Zoo when she was almost two, I didn’t understand why she didn’t go crazy over seeing all the animals, but I suppose at that age she wasn’t sure what she was looking at and wasn’t aware that seeing lions roar wasn’t a big deal. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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